Why Mindset in Goal Setting is the ONLY Thing You Need to Focus On
Lately I have been wrestling with why goal setting can be so difficult and bring up so many negative emotions for people. (Myself included.) Part of me is afraid to set goals because my track record feels less than stellar. I don’t want to miss the mark and feel bad about myself, or give up on a dream, which is definitely something I have done before.
Don’t get me wrong, I have also achieved many goals and gained a lot of confidence in myself and my ability to do what I set my mind to. BUT what I have come to realize is that in different areas of my life, I have varying levels of trust and confidence in my goal setting abilities. What I understand now is that it all comes down to my mindset.
I have all the confidence in athletics too. I know I’ve got the grit to keep going even when it gets tough, even painful, and that eventually I will succeed. I just have to keep going. BUT when it comes to my personal life, I set goals all the time only to miss the mark, give up, and decide I’m just not cut out for it. When it gets tough, uncertain, uncomfortable, or takes longer than I expected, I lose momentum. I don’t have the same grit to keep taking action like I do in athletics.
Why, you might ask? Mindset.
It has taken me a long time to understand how I can be two completely different people: a badass at what I set my mind to AND a person who gives up on herself the moment it gets hard. I struggled for a long time trying to reconcile these two incredibly contradictory people within myself. But then I realized that the difference was in what I made the goals and struggles MEAN about me, my self-worth, and my lovability.
In athletic, I never made the struggles mean anything about me and my worth. I EXPECTED struggle. Climbing a mountain is HARD, it hurts, I always have a moment (or several) where I want to quit, turn around, ask myself why I like torturing myself. But I keep going because I know that’s just part of the process. Those thoughts don’t make my brain panic and doubt my self-worth or my abilities because I never made climbing a mountain about my worthiness, it was just about seeing what I was capable of.
But with my relationship goals, when I set goals and they inevitably got uncomfortable and difficult, I made it mean something about me, so I quit. The reason these goals were so personal was that I made the goal itself about my worth. I made them part of my perfectionist fantasy, that I would suddenly feel a certain way about myself (worthy and loveable) once I accomplished these goals. If I could just follow all of these relationship skills to a T, then I would never feel rejected and would always feel appreciated. I would feel adequate and worthy of love.
The real thought was, “Someday in the future when I do and have these things, then I will get to have positive thoughts and feelings only, not uncomfortable ones. “
See, I was avoiding the discomfort. I was creating a goal to get away from discomfort, whereas with my other goals I embraced it. Those athletic goals were not about avoiding discomfort but seeking it out and almost looking forward to it. Those goals were not tied to my lovability and my self-worth. They were not goals that meant anything about me. The relationship goals were about who I was and, more importantly, who I thought I should be.
They were also based in the idea that I should inherently know how to be that person; that I was currently lacking, in need of fixing or changing because I was somehow wrong. Whereas the other goals were about understanding that I was going to become a completely new person, and that was the point. I started as a person who doesn’t run half marathons and I changed into a person who does run half marathons.
Had I used that mindset with relationship, who knows where I would have gone with those goals?
All of this reflection has led me to understand what it really means to get your goal mindset in gear, and I’m grateful for that understanding. Rather than berating myself for not knowing this information before, I am choosing to see it as part of my journey: I’ve grown into someone who knows how to set and achieve goals and now I can help others do the same, because I did all the wrong things first! Here is what I have learned:
Six Mindset Shifts That Will Transform Your Goal Setting
1. Change the Wording
Make the pursuit and definition of the goal itself something that feels abundant and positive, not negative and fear based. Don’t make it about avoidance. Don’t make the goal about “I should…” Make it about possibility: “Let’s see what could happen if…”
A great example of this:
“I hate feeling out of shape, I should workout more so I won’t feel out of shape.”
See the implicit negativity in that phrasing? See how you are set up to fail if your WHY is simply “not wanting to feel out of shape”? You most certainly will feel out of shape, probably the whole time you are working on your goal to exercise more, because that is what exercising more entails, exercise! Your thought “I don’t want to feel out of shape so I should exercise more” is going to lead your brain to want to quit the moment you feel discomfort because your whole goal was to NOT feel discomfort. You’ll feel like you’ve failed every second you’re uncomfortable.
Instead, a phrase like “I want to engage in more healthy activity for my body on a regular basis” is both more neutral and empowering. Try out the thought “I’m working hard and making my body healthy” when you’re exercising and it’s hard, because let’s face it, it’s going to be hard! That’s the whole point.
2. Expect the Pain and Discomfort
You can’t hate the journey and expect to love the outcome. The thoughts you have along the way will be the same thoughts you have when -if- you achieve the goal because your thoughts create your feelings, not external circumstances. You can’t tell yourself you hate exercise and expect yourself to stick with an exercise plan. Likewise, you can’t tell yourself it is hard and miserable to make money and expect to make a bunch of money and feel great about it.
3. Shift Your Perspective
Rather than viewing your past goalsetting endeavors as failures, frame them as learning experiences. For me that means telling myself I didn’t fail, I just quit too soon. When working towards your goal, look at obstacles as hurdles to conquer, rather than reasons to quit. Reframe the narrative that goal achievement should feel good. The pain is the goal – that’s where growth happens! It should hurt. Embrace the hurt. Be excited when things get hard; it’s a valuable opportunity to create new thoughts to work on.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.” – Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), A League Of Their Own
4. Don’t Engage in Perfectionist Fantasies
Don’t make the goal the thing that will enable you to think and feel better about yourself once it is accomplished. The thoughts you have now are the same thoughts you’ll have when you accomplish the goal. Get really clear about your thoughts and feelings behind the goal setting, and then shift those thoughts to be more empowering (like the previous examples). We often expect the goal to deliver something to us, some sort of feeling or thought, but only your thoughts will lead to good feelings. No particular circumstance or outcome can do that for you.
5. Just Do One Thing
Become the person that just does one thing, then add from there. Use the slight edge. Don’t engage in perfectionist or black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking. Just do something. The difference between the person who sets a goal and sticks with it 100% of the time and the person who only sticks with it 20% of the time is small. The first step is the biggest one. Just keep going. It won’t be perfect, it will feel uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Just keep going.
6. It’s Not About the Goal, It’s About the Person You Become
It’s not about the goal itself, but who you have to become in order to attain it. The point of the goal is not the action – doing the exercise three times a week or making $5000 a month – the point of the goal is to be a person who makes doing regular exercise a habit. Or the person who continues to take steps to make money in their business. It’s not the actual content of the goal that matters, it is who you have to become to create the result for yourself that matters.
You actually have to create the identity of someone who consistently takes the action required to reach a goal. With this mindset you will focus more on taking some sort of action, whether it’s the exact thing you set out to do or something else.
This is where I achieve my physical goals but not my relationship goals. I can put one foot in front of the other, go for one imperfect run after the other, and as long as I keep doing it, I know I will get there eventually. But with relationships I am too focused on the perfectionist fantasy about what I will get to think and feel about myself when I accomplish the goal. Then if I can’t do the action, meet the benchmark, or stick with the plan, I give up because I falsely think, “What’s the point?” I won’t feel good about myself doing it halfway, so I’ll do it perfectly tomorrow. And instead, I never do it.
What could you do with your goals if you could learn to work on your mindset first?
For me reframing my past goal flops looks like understanding my goal is not about feeling worthy or perfect. Perfect is just a thought. My goal is about seeing what amazing ways I can create change when I put my mind to it. My goal is about understanding that one step in front of the other is better than perfect. It is about understanding that the outcome is not the point, the person I am becoming is the point.
For me my new relationship goal reframe is: “to see how I could learn to grow and expand our connection to foster a more respectful and fulfilling relationship” rather than my previous: “if I do these things then the relationship (but really I) will be perfect.”
The tone of the goal is so different. It leaves me much more room to succeed without making it mean anything about me. It makes me feel excited and hopeful and also like there is no end result. If I just keep taking one imperfect step after another, I will already be somewhere amazing!
I hope my ruminating about my past goal triumphs and failures has helped you put into perspective the ways you might be sabotaging your own goal achievement. If this feels true for you, I have created a workbook that helps break down your goal mindset as well as the action steps for your goal, and I want you to have it FREE, just sign up here.
And if you feel like you could use some more help with your goal setting and achieving let’s chat! I offer a 50-minute mini session to help you get your goal mindset and action steps on the right track so you can do the Gutsy things in life! Find out more and sign up here.